Smarks, WWE creative, and the Internet Wrestling Community

Examining the relationship between smarks and the WWE creative braintrust while also looking at the Internet Wrestling Community as a collective.

Earlier this week, Hulk Holland penned an interesting piece looking at the relationship between the creative brain trust within WWE and the smark fan base that so longs for cohesive storytelling featuring darling wrestlers said fan base has initiated into its ranks.

In short, the two sides simply don't trust each other. Vince McMahon thinks he knows what's best for you, the smark, and you, the smark, think you know what's best for Vince McMahon and his wildly successful promotion.

Then there's the issue of the Internet Wrestling Community as a collective and how it does -- or doesn't -- shape the landscape as a whole. To that point, Cageside commentator GuyinNY left this incredibly well thought out comment that I didn't catch until recently and wanted to expose to a much larger audience.

Here it is, completely unedited:

To be clear, I <3 cSs and enjoy posting here. That having been said, I'm not sure how this post is going to go over...

In determining WWE's booking relationship to the IWC, the salient issue is determining the character of the IWC. Despite some protestations, it's prima facie evident there is an IWC which subdivides based on which particular community you participate in, and those communities (naturally and necessarily) take on their own character, and that drives the particular relationship between that community and WWE's creative direction (as a one way street). Communities grow by attracting like minded individuals,and the echo chamber nature of forum posting only serves to amplify and further ingratiate the popular opinions on those sites. Here at cSs, Mean Geno's creative direction has grown a smart community of largely like-minded posters who share a general affinity for pro graps and a general distaste for the soap opera aspects of modern sports entertainment and its consequences, like SuperCena's retconned bad year, belts as props, and shmozz finishes. Consequently, this is reflected in the general mistrust of WWE's booking process

I'd identify the IWC as something like David Shoemaker's meta-fans. We read Brandon Stroud's Raw reviews religiously, pop into the excellent International Object whenever we remember to, listen to the Art of Wrestling pod, should listen to the Steve Austin Show (the Bret Hart episode was excellent), and all have our own fantasy booking for Flair/Hogan in the WWF, the Invasion, and Summer of Punk 2.0. We're still pro graps marks to the core; fans of our peculiar demonstration sport. You're likely to find a generally pro-WWE slant regardless of where you go given the mass appeal and enormous media saturation of WWE. However, like any drug, there are different strains that absorb the terroir and produce a different flavor profile. Depending on which forum you visit, you'll take on the character of that particular region's smark. This is amplified in communities where upvoting systems create an echo chamber effect (and I'd include the "greening" recc process here, though I think it's MUCH milder in effect.)

You can head on over to unjaded folks at /r/SquaredCircle where the top posts are things like "Mark Henry would still weigh 289lbs without body fat!" Are those people "smarks?" They read the dirtsheets just the same, but without proper leadership beyond the very light touch of the moderators, the average Redditor writes like an 18 year old discovering Nietzsche for the first time (OMG TEH WILL 2POWA!) Scott Keith's RSPWFAQ is like the Baseball Think Factory of the IWC, where an older set still has a pro-WWE slant but where Keith's own personal distaste for HHH as a worker poisons the conversation to some extent.1 However, regardless of where the conversation starts, you'll still end up talking about why DBD/Punk didn't get 5*. Maybe hop over to DVD and ponder why Da Meltz can't give a non-strong style North American match 5* unless it smacks him in the face and gets onto Bill Simmons' radar?2 These forums grow like any underground culture (ex. zines), driven by the editorial mast but still reflective of the readership. This symbiosis creates the particular character of any individual forum.

Cagesiders absorb their terroir just the same as anywhere. The General and his able staff drive the conversation on the site, and through the "Greatest" tourney series and John Nash's excellent work, this has become one of the most knowledgeable communities on the web while still remaining vibrant and current. However, the cSs staff still has biases, demonstrating a pro-WWE slant but a general distaste for the goofier, more sports entertainment aspects of WWE. Like radio shock jocks who push an agenda, the greening process amplifies these views through frequent, high profile posters who will also sometimes be more vitriolic in their reactionary anti-Creative slant, abandoning logic for sophistry. Pushes for "sports entertainers" like Ryback or Mark Henry are castigated before they get off the ground without regard for changing circumstances like Ryback's improving workrate 3 or Henry's vastly improved mic skills, even though those larger-than-life archetypes have been part of the wrestling business since before Haystacks Calhoun was in diapers. Because loud, reductive opinions draw more eyeballs than nuanced ones, It's common for a thread to generate a circlejerk bemoaning the fact that CM Punk can have a 434 day reign as champion, and he's still not being pushed hard enough because he doesn't close the show while DBDcan be the lead player on Raw during the crucial summer months and it's still not enough because it's not guaranteed he's going to get the full Benoit/Hart treatment and make the champion submit in the middle of the ring for the title. It's not that the community at large is necessarily vehemently anti-Creative, but rather that the conversation seems that way because of the natural tendencies of the site and because, like Eric Bischoff said, controversy creates cash.

It's ultimately reasonable to characterize a single IWC, but like any underground culture, the subdivisions are deep and many. Consequently, it's difficult to say WWE is booking towards any particular notion of the IWC, but rather trying to please a very broad set of opinions that are still a minority voice amongst the large demographic of wrestling fans. This, as much as anything, explains why Indy Shmucks have something less than the wind at their backs. It's impossible for WWE to tell precisely where that wind is coming from.

1 Like Keith's HHH fixation, Mrosko's anti-Hogan bias somewhat precludes rational discourse on TNA or anything touching Hogan's legacy.

2 Dirtsheet forums also make up a significant portion of the community, but are so disparate as to be hard to classify. Like the majority of the IWC, i don't pay for my dirtsheet access so I can't speak to the WON forums or similar sites, though I suspect the conversation is of a high quality. Consequently, I can only base my opinion off free rumor mills. If you're drunk, it's 3 am (and she hands you a raincoat) and you're checking Wrestlezone? You'll wind up in its Youtube-commenter caliber shitshow forums. I don't think it's possible to have an opinion if you're not sentient.

3 At some point, Ryback will have worked enough "surprisingly good!" matches that we have to acknowledge that he's improving through the process of working with top shelf talent like Punk and Cena.

There isn't much to add to this but I will say that I agree with the theory that any forum or website comment section will attract largely like minded individuals. I like to think the community here isn't such a hive mind that dissenting opinions are done away with, though.

Asterisk and his distaste for the work of one Mark Henry, who is widely adored around these parts, is one example of this.

I will also personally cop to a strong anti-Hogan bias. I do not believe in creating a false front in regards to such things. I know I am, you know I am, so why not just put it out there and let you decide what to do with that information. Does it compromise my coverage of Hulk Hogan and anything he touches, like TNA? That's certainly a fair question to ask, but I would hope I give credit where it's due and I believe I've demonstrated that I will never criticize for the sake of criticizing. Everything you read here is how I legitimately feel while digesting whatever I'm watching at any particular time.

Hell, I even give Hogan credit when he gets it right. That's just not very often anymore.

Still, this is a fascinating subject and I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on it.

Oh, and Ryback, despite this ridiculous angle they've got him working, has most definitely improved a great deal since he first came back with his "Big Hungry" character.

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